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Letter to the editor
Editor, – According to Professor Ron Penny, there is an unbelievable array of effective medicines that have reduced the number of HIV/AIDS related deaths in Australia from 2790 in 1992 to 97 in 2001.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorically stated that access to innovative medicines and vaccines has been substantially the most important factor in achieving the dramatic decline in mortality rates throughout the twentieth century.1
These statements contrast starkly with the opinion of Dr Moran who hypothesised in her recent editorial ('Why are global drug prices so high... and other questions' Aust Prescr 2003;26:26-7)that the interests of the prescription medicines industry lie in 'maximising profits and growth, not in identifying and filling health needs'.
There are many industry driven programs that treat disease and alleviate suffering in resource poor countries. One of the most successful partnerships is the Accelerating Access Initiative program that includes UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), WHO, the World Bank and pharmaceutical companies. This currently has 27 000 people on antiretroviral therapy throughout the world.2
Dr Moran suggested that the medicines industry targets 'money-spinner drugs and diseases'. This ignores the critical fact that in Australia these diseases are precisely the diseases that are the focus of the seven National Health Priorities (asthma, cancer, cardiovascularhealth, diabetes, injuryprevention, mental health and arthritis)established not by the medicines industry but by Australian Health Ministers.
Innovative cures to treat disease only come from the research-based medicines industry because governments and even venture capitalists are not prepared to invest in such a high-risk venture. Latest research estimates that it costs about $1.1 billion3 to bring a new medicine from discovery to patient - along a 12-15 year journey.
This vitally important commitment of the medicines industry is ignored by Dr Moran.
- The World Health Report 1999. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1999. p. xxi.
- Accelerating Access Initiative Progress Report June2002. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2002.
- Di Masi JA, Hansen RW, Grabowski HG. The price of innovation: new estimates of drug development costs. J Health Econ 2003;22:151-85.
- The 10/90 Report on Health Research 2001-2002. Global Forum for Health Research; Chap. 6, p.107. http://www.globalforumhealth.org (go to Publications)
- Consumer Project on Technology. Additional notes on government role in the development of HIV/AIDS drugs. February 23, 2000. http://www.cptech.org/ip/health/aids/gov-role.html
- Nader R, Love J. Federally funded pharmaceutical inventions. Testimony before the Special Committee on the Aging, of the United States Senate. February 24, 1993. http://www.cptech.org/pharm/pryor.html